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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Face the nation: Canada remade

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jul. 6, 2003

Within 10 years of their arrival, their values are largely indistinguishable from the values of the broader Canadian society.

And with each generation, Canadians in general become more comfortable calling themselves Canadians. The youngest are most likely to, with 40 per cent of 20s listing at least part of their ethnic origin as Canadian in the 2001 census, compared to 32 per cent of those over 65.

It is clear that 20s remain fiercely proud of their country, or at least of the idea that they believe their country to be. Their kind of patriotism sees the nation in broader terms, with less attachment to their home provinces.

They consider Canada's place in the world more important than settling old rivalries about language and national unity.

Their distinctiveness as Canadians is unblurred by the global ocean of American media and marketing that has washed over them since birth. In fact, more than older generations, they expect the global infuence of their country to grow in the future.

They are more European than American, indeed more happy and secure in their culture than young Europeans. Young Americans remain more religious, more socially conservative, more materialistic. Canadians in their 20s are more interested in job security than big salaries; they would rather have more time with their families. They stack a good quality of life over a high standard of living.

In fact, young Canadians are becoming less like Americans than ever. The reason is simple, says Michael Adams, president of the polling firm Environics and author of a new book, Fire and Ice: the U.S., Canada and the Myth of Converging Values.

"Young Canadians," he said in an interview, "live in Canada."

In other words, the first-hand experience of the society they see around them — the culture they have absorbed from their parents and in their multicultural classrooms — is at odds with the second-hand experience they see portrayed in the U.S. media. American reality TV may be popular entertainment this side of the border but the characters don't inhabit the real world of 20s Canadians.

In a poll last year by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada, older Canadians were more likely than young ones to say they want the country to be more like the United States; that was a trend endorsed only by 8 per cent of 20s Canadians.

Hardly surprising from a Charter-raised generation. Take a look at how Americans and Canadians responded to this statement in an Environic survey: "The father of the family must be the master of his own house." In 1992, 42 per cent of Americans said the statement was true, compared with 26 per cent of Canadians. In 2000, 49 per cent of Americans agreed with it, compared with 18 per cent of Canadians. Mr. Adams calls it the most astonishing polling result he has ever encountered.

Neil Nevitte, the University of Toronto political scientist who for 20 years has tracked values in Western Europe, the United States and Canada, credits Canada's egalitarian family structures with helping to create young Canadians' ideology of tolerance, social justice and ecological concern.

Today's 20s are indeed the children of those who voted for successive 1960s' and 1970s' governments that enacted multiculturalism, decided the state had no place in the nation's bedrooms, crafted the Charter to elevate individual rights into Canada's supreme law and balance them against the rights of the collective, created the social programs that have allowed the great majority to grow up secure, healthy and well-educated, and wove tolerance and respect for diversity into the schools, courts and law books.

If a ride on the Toronto subway is a trip through 100 languages and the world's entire set of skin colours, it is because Canadians of older generations opened more widely the doors to the country.

If francophone Quebec has been transformed into a vibrant, multi-ethnic society that looks confidently out on the world rather than protectively in on itself, it is because pure laine Quebeckers — the parents and grandparents of today's young adults — helped that change take place.

If Canadians in their 20s overwhelmingly say yes to homosexuals being allowed to marry in law, it is because they were raised in Canadian families and educated in Canadian schools that assigned premium value to tolerance and social inclusiveness and independent thinking.

So 20s are really just a stronger version of the people who raised them, in a trend that promises even more tolerant generations to come. The real split in values and attitudes, the CRIC-Globe survey found, was with their grandparents who were, in almost every area, the least open to change.

"The Charter was not created to reflect Canada; but the Charter did create a new Canadian generation that reflects the Charter," says Queen's University political scientist Matthew Mendelsohn, who helped design the CRIC-Globe and Mail poll.

"It's tough to build a country to match a dream," Pierre Trudeau is once reported to have said.

In fact, that appears to be what Canadians are succeeding in doing.

"It may turn out to be an anachronism," says Mr. Adams of Environics. In a world of six billion people, he says, a society defined by idealism, egalitarianism, personal fulfilment, tolerance and diversity "may be a dream that fails."

But not yet. When asked in the CRIC-Globe survey what made them proud to be Canadian, both young and old gave the same top two answers: Canada's No. 1 ranking by the United Nations, and the vastness and beauty of the land. But after that, it was young adults who gave higher rankings to the principles and policies constructed by a previous generation: multiculturalism, the Charter, and the belief that people coming from different cultures can live here in peace.

Because behind the numbers and surveys are people.

There are Yvonne Mugwaneza and Khalil Kanaan, determined to raise their children Roman Catholic and Muslim in faith; Rwandan, Lebanese and Canadian in cultures; and to teach them to speak English, French, Arabic and Kinyarwanda.

And Lonny Finkbeiner, a gun-loving self-proclaimed "redneck" in the Alberta oilpatch who speaks bluntly about the equal society he seeks for his seven-year-old son.

And university graduate Alicia Gartrill, who works as a teller for a B.C. credit union because she likes its ethical mission to strengthen local community.

And First Nations valedictorian Damon Badger-Heit, 23, who hopes non-aboriginals in Saskatchewan aren't too terrified when they eventually become the minority in that province.

And two young women, Jennifer Woodill and Alex Vamos, lining up a sperm donor for their baby.

They are the new Canada. ROBTv Workopolis